Serene, magical Lijiang River recaptures its pristine glory
NANNING — Ranked by international broadcaster CNN as one of the best 15 waterways for travelers, the Lijiang River is also one of the stars of Guilin’s world-renowned scenery.
Hailed as one of the most beautiful rivers on the earth, the Lijiang River, where clean water flows between scenic karst mountains, winds through four counties in the city of Guilin in southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
Apart from its fame in the world, the river means more for local fishermen and residents.
Huang Yuechuang, 79, is one of the fishermen who have witnessed its ups and downs. Rowing a bamboo raft with several cormorants perched on it, Huang sports a bamboo split hat and linen rain cape.
Despite what it looks like, he is not actually fishing; rather, he earns a living as a model on the river for photographers from across the world. Huang’s classic fisherman’s look has gained him fame and he has even been viewed by some as an indispensable part of the river.
Born into a fisherman’s family on the banks of the Lijiang, Huang said they had lived on fishing for generations. When Huang was young, his family stayed on a boat all day long.
Increasing numbers of tourists in the wake of China’s reform and opening-up in 1978 brought benefits to fishermen on the river.
“There used to be over 500 fishermen living around this part of the river,” said Huang Xingyue, another fisherman from Xingping village, along the river. “Our ancestors taught us the rules for sustainable fishing and the importance of river protection.”
However, rapid urbanization posed a threat to the water quality of the river. Authorities said about 175,000 tons of industrial and domestic sewage was poured into the river every day in the 1970s, despite the city government’s efforts to curb pollution.
The ever-developing tourism has also threatened the environment of the river. In 2009, Guilin received 18.6 million visitors. The number surged to over 80 million in 2017.
Huang Yuechuang said the booming tourism propelled local fishermen to turn to tourism-related businesses such as restaurants or hotels over ten years ago.
Huang Gang used to run a restaurant on Fulongzhou Island, one of the four islands on Lijiang River.
Fulongzhou was home to over 100 residents. To cater to the increasing tourists, most of the residents started to run fish restaurants on the island from 1998, according to Huang Gang.
“The sanitary sewage and wastewater from the restaurants discharged directly into the river,” he said.
As China has attached great importance to environmental protection, the local government has made an all-out effort to reduce pollution and restore the beauty of the Lijiang River. It launched a campaign in 2016, spending 314 million yuan relocating residents of the four river islands to restore their damaged environment.
Now, all the residents of Fulongzhou Island have been relocated to the city proper of Guilin, with restaurants closed and illegal buildings torn down. The island is now being transformed into a park.